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1-CARDINAL

Prayers and tributes on the death of Cardinal Keith O’Brien

Former First Minister joins tributes to the retired archbishop whose resignation left a deep scar — By PETER DIAMOND AND DANIEL HARKINS

The former First Minster of Scotland has joined fellow politicians, Pope Francis, Scotland’s bishops, and the laity in praying for Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who died at the age of 80 on Monday March 19 at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The controversial cardinal, whose final days in office were overshadowed by accusations of sexual misconduct and a subsequent apology, died at 1am, two days after his 80th birthday, surrounded by family and friends.

He had been in the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Newcastle, but was hospitalised after a fall last month that broke his collarbone.

Alex Salmond, who served as First Minster of Scotland from 2007 to 2014 during which time the cardinal was archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh, said he was ‘hugely saddened’ to hear of his death.

“There will be a tendency among many to forget all of the good he did because his tenure in office ended in disgrace. However, every single one of us must hope that we are judged on the totality of what we have done not just on our mistakes, however grievous,” he said.

“The fact remains that in his ministry Keith O’Brien achieved some remarkable things, leading the Church to the centre of Scottish society and his progressive stance on poverty and third world issues. Indeed we met for the first time at an event for the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund many years ago.

“Of course we did not agree on some issues—the equal marriage legislation for a start—but our disagreements were always conducted with good grace. Indeed, the relationship between Church and state was at its closest in the arrangements for the hugely successful visit to Scotland of His Holiness Pope Benedict XV1 on September 16, 2010.

“It was Cardinal O’Brien’s initiative to hand His Holiness the papal tartan scarf which the Pope wore proudly to the delight of the tens of thousands thronging Princes Street. Later, after the Mass at Bellahouston Park. I remember the relief on both of our faces when we received by telex a message from the Swiss Guard informing us that his Holiness had left Scottish airspace and that all was well. When I think of Keith I will remember most that very happy day.”

The SNP MP for Glenrothes and Central Fife, Peter Grant, echoed his former colleague, saying: “Everyone will remember the wrong Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien did but he also deserves to be remembered for the many good things he did.”

Pope Francis said he was saddened to learn of the cardinal’s death, and offered his ‘heartfelt condolences’ to his family and ‘all who mourn his passing.’

“Commending his soul to the merciful love of God our Father, and with the assurance of my prayers for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh, I cordially impart my apostolic blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.

John Deighan, CEO of pro-life charity SPUC Scotland, said: “Cardinal O’Brien was a courageous advocate of the right to life and was always most supportive of SPUC. There were key moments when he spoke out on the issue of abortion. I am sure these made an impact and may well have been pivotal in ensuring that our abortion laws did not become much worse; especially at the time of the passing of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act when that could easily have happened.”

 

Irish beginning

Born in Northern Ireland on St Patrick’s Day 1938, Keith O’Brien arrived in Scotland at the age of 10, with his mother Alice, father Mark, and younger brother Terry. The family first stayed in Whiteinch, Glasgow, attending Mass at St Paul’s Church.

The family later moved to what the future cardinal described as a ‘but ‘n ben’ in Clydebank. He attended St Peter’s Primary in Dalmuir and St Patrick’s High in Dumbarton.

He finished his education at Holy Cross Academy in Edinburgh, by which point he had applied twice to enter seminary. On his second application, it was discovered he had a heart murmur, and Cardinal Gordon Gray advised him to instead attend university, saying: “If you can survive university, you can survive seminary.”

The cardinal did just that, receiving a BSc in chemistry and maths and was then accepted as a seminarian at St Andrew’s College, Drygrange.

He was ordained a priest on April 3, 1965 at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, with the ambition of becoming ‘a good priest.’

His first appointment was as assistant priest at Holy Cross in Edinburgh between 1965 and 1966 and he served as chaplain at St Columba Secondary in Cowdenbeath, spending much of this period teaching maths, having achieved a diploma in education.

From 1978 to 1980 he was spiritual director at St Andrews College, and he was rector of St Mary’s College, Blairs from 1980-1985.

It was while serving as rector at St Mary’s that the then Mgr Keith O’Brien was announced as the new Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh on May 30, 1985. He described receiving a call at 10.30pm at his office, and the voice of the papal pro-nuncio asking: “Are you alone?” His first visit as archbishop-elect was to his 78-year-old father, a navy veteran.

His episcopal ordination took place on August 5 in St Mary’s Cathedral Edinburgh, with two cardinals, 20 bishops, and 300 priests in attendance. He served as apostolic administrator of Argyll and the Isles Diocese from 1996-1999.

In 2003, 300 Scottish pilgrims travelled to Rome to see the archbishop be made a cardinal. The archbishop spoke afterwards about the ‘heavy responsibility that shadows each and every cardinal,’ before celebrating with the Scottish pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.

In his first press conference while in Rome, the cardinal denied reports that he was in favour of liberal reform in the Church, and later told ­Scottish journalists his goal as cardinal would be the ‘re-Christianisation’ of Scotland.

He took an active roll in politics in Scotland, campaigning against same-sex marriage, Trident nuclear weapons, and the Act of Settlement. In 2006, he said he ‘didn’t want to become too involved in the politics’ of Scottish independence, but that he had ‘seen what benefits independence can bring’ around the world, adding that he could see independence coming ‘perhaps not in the next few years, but before too long.’

 

Controversy

In his final days in office in 2013, following his resignation as archbishop ahead of his 75th birthday, he broached the subject of priestly celibacy, telling the BBC the subject of married priests should be discussed. However, his comments were soon overshadowed by newspaper reports that accused him of sexual misconduct against three priests and a former priest.

On March 3, 2013, the cardinal admitted that ‘there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.’

He apologised and asked for forgiveness.

Following an apostolic visitation, the Vatican announced in 2015 that Pope Francis had accepted the cardinal’s resignation ‘from the rights and duties of a cardinal.’

The cardinal retired to life in England.

Archbishop Leo Cushley, the current archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh, said: “In life, Cardinal O’Brien may have divided opinion—in death, however, I think all can be united in praying for the repose of his soul, for comfort for his grieving family and that support and solace be given to those whom he offended, hurt and let down. May he rest in peace.”

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow said he wished to express his ‘sincere sympathy on the death of the late cardinal to his family and close friends.’

Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell Diocese said: “I will pray for the eternal repose of the soul of Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien… may he rest in God’s peace. I extend my sympathy and prayerful support to his family, friends and all who mourn his passing.”

On behalf of Paisley Diocese, Bishop John Keenan said he wished to express his sympathy to the archbishop’s friends and family.

Cardinal O’Brien’s funeral will take place on April 5 at 1pm in the Church of St Michael, Westmoreland Road, Newcastle. The main celebrant and homilist will be Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster.

He will be buried at Mount Vernon Cemetery, Edinburgh on April 6 at 1pm. The cardinal’s body will be laid to rest in the grave of his mother and father.

 

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